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Reading As a Writer: The Genius and the Goddess By Aldous Huxley
A Little-Known Novella
Aldous Huxley's little-known novella, The Genius and the Goddess is written in an uncharacteristic lyrical style and deals with a subject one would not expect the author to tackle: adultery and teenage angst.
It is difficult to view Huxley as the same man who wrote the well-knownBrave New World which is entirely different in style and subject. The Genius and the Goddess is written mostly as a monologue delivered to a friend.
Bogged Down by Pompous Language
The Genius and the Goddess is often bogged down by the pompous language of a writer who is obviously trying to sound erudite. The reader cannot help being reminded of the fact that Huxley is one of the most learned writers of the 20th century.
In a Paris Review interview, Huxley mentions that he always tries to blend the elements of the essay with elements of fiction. Huxley's views about sex, religion, the intellect and much more are all laid out in The Genius and the Goddess.
Adultery Glorified in Huxley's Novella
Huxley's glorification of adultery might rankle some readers, especially since in the beginning, the narrator, John Rivers says that he loves Katy Maartens (the goddess) like Dante loved Beatrice.
As her genius husband, Henry, lies dying, Katy seduces Rivers, which act suddenly fills her with "virtue." This virtue which has turned her into her goddess-like self again (for she had lost this self when her husband had fallen ill), has a healing effect on Henry. There is not a sliver of guilt in the goddess.
Whereas, Rivers, despite being burdened with doubt and guilt, cannot help himself, and yields to
Huxley's Profound Understanding of Teenage Angst
The term "goddess" in the title of this novel is alluring. Yet even after reading halfway through the book, there is no mention of the goddess. Huxley is still focused on Ruth, the spoiled teenage daughter of the goddess.
Huxley portrays the character of Ruth with brilliance and a profound understanding of the teenag mind. Indeed, Ruth seems more real than the goddess or anyone else in the book.
"And then of course, there were those love poems which she insisted in the teeth of her own and my embarrassment, on showing me. Blisses and kisses; Lips and whips; yearning and burning; Best, blest, pressed, breast."
Not Huxley's Best Writing
And sometimes, Huxley's writing can make the discriminating writer-reader wince:
"Sleep – that's also the other world. Othererer even than the heaven of touch. From love to sleep, from the other to the otherer. It's that otherer otherness which invests the sleeping beloved with a quality almost of sacredness."
Huxley's Weak Portrayal of the "Goddess"
Katy Maartens does not seem goddess-like. The only trait that comes anywhere near "Olympian" is her lack of sexual guilt which is reminiscent of Aphrodite, and her callousness. Rivers' guilt makes her laugh.
The book becomes trite and commonplace when towards the end, Huxley introduces the adulterous lovers. What holds the reader' s interest till the end is Ruth's fierce jealousy of her mother and the question: Will Henry, the genius husband of Katy, find out about the adultery?
Huxley describes Rivers' gradual disillusionment with Katy which peaks when in the end, she reveals her callous side that seemed so "Olympian" to him before. But now her indifference towards her daughter, Ruth, unnerves him.
Overall, Huxley's The Genius and the Goddess achieves readability, although it comes nowhere near the brilliance expected from a writer of his calibre.
The Genius and the Goddess
Author: Aldous Huxley
ISBN: 0-06-172490-4 / 978-0-06-172490-9 (USA edition)